Below The Surface – Arizona Canyons
Antelope Canyon, AZ
The blue sky above me slowly disappears as we transcend down through the slot canyon walls into the belly of the earth. At first I am just enamored and blown away at the extravagant colors and reflections. I pause at every turn trying to remember to look in every direction, but instinctively find myself staring through the tiny glass of my camera or from behind the smart phone lens. I was almost halfway through the hour-plus hike down into lower Antelope Canyon when I looked around at the other fifteen or so smiles exploring with us and noticed that not one of us was truly there. It was if we were all just documentarians on a mission to snap as many selfies as possible and to somehow capture this magnificent canyon in our camera lenses. Perhaps there was the thought that there would be time later to sit down and look through the photos and truly see and appreciate this Arizona natural wonder we were hiking through.
It was somewhere after that point, I decided to put the memory catcher up for a while and let my heart and mind be in the moment. As I carefully slide my hand along the fragile sandstone I could feel the tiny crystals break away from the massive stone wall. While everyone else continues snapping and posing their mates for the 37th time, I find myself standing next to a Navajo guide, who is painting a picture of how this canyon was formed and how it continues to change and erode today. Suddenly, I could see the massive spring rains and winter snow-melts crashing and rushing around me, carrying boulders, rocks, sand and debris. I feel the earth change and become consumed with thoughts of water, the power of wind, and the forces that alter the earth.
On the surface, we all walk about, drive down paved roads, admire mountain peaks, dip our toes in cool streams, but we don’t really see the change or the power that shapes the earth. I think we have to stand below the roots of the trees or at least hang our feet over the depths of a canyon wall to truly get a perspective about time. It’s here in these wrinkles of the earth, the layers of years revealed now in colored carved stone, that we receive the gift of looking into a true history book, one unwritten by man but sculpted by nature.
The man called Muleskinner – (has nothing to do with a real Canyon, but everything to do with going below the surface)
I am somehow drawn to those wrinkles. Not only in our earth’s deep history and the many layers of canyons to explore, but in humans too. Some of our best friends are older than us, and not just by a couple years. Unconsciously we seek them out or the stars send them to us. In every case, we find these friendships not just honest, pure and filling, but they also continue to top our cup with new knowledge and perspectives that we would not get from anywhere else. A month or so ago before we visited Antelope Canyon, we were dry camping in a national forest in Colorado and drove into the nearest town to sample some of the local fare. There was an older gent sitting alone at a table. Let me paint the picture a little more…. he had on stained, ripped overalls. His long white beard had matted chunks of food from another time, and he sported a Daniel Boone type hat with some sort of animal tail hanging off the back. And, he had the most crazy blue eyes you’ve ever seen. Of course we had to sit with him and say “hello”. How we were treated with the most amazing stories and genuine kindness. He learned that Sharon was a descendant of Davy Crockett and you would have thought we had told him that she was also the Queen of England. We ran into Muleskinner several times during our couple weeks there. It was like we were drawn to each other. He somehow even magically showed up to our camp the day I had discovered the two flat tires on our truck. Without a thought, he got down and greasy with me and helped to install the spares and even repaired a broken valve stem. Right before he left us I got a last look into the wrinkles on his brow. I noted his crooked smile and couldn’t help but feel the wisdom and knowledge just oozing from his years. How lucky we were to have those few brief moments, sitting on the edge of the canyon getting to know one another below the surface.
There Is Only ONE Grand Canyon
While we were exploring Colorado, Utah and Arizona this summer we were lucky enough to hike in and hang our toes over quite a few canyons, but there is only one called THE GRAND CANYON and the pure size of it is not the reason it was named GRAND. We spent a week dispersed camping in the national forest outside of the park and would drive in, or take the free bus with our bikes to explore. I am so glad we didn’t have to take it all in with just a day or two. The first time I stood on the edge and soaked it in with my eyes, my breath literally left me. The shear magnitude of it caused me to feel as if I might faint and I had to sit down.
Each day it felt like we were going to class and our teacher was this amazing National Park. From my front row desk I could take it all in. I was able to look into the center of the canyon and see stone that was formed almost 1.5 billion years ago. The Colorado river, over a mile now below me, was once just a little stream up here along beside of me. It’s astonishing what rain, wind and time has carved! Most of our explorations, I mean time in class, were in the early part of the day, but we just had to sit on the edge one evening and catch a sunset too. We weren’t the only ones with the same great idea. It didn’t take long and we were surrounded by couples and families and of course everyone had a camera. I looked around and in every direction everyone had a device attached to their face, except for a young man sitting next to me. I noticed that he was alone and in tears. Without thought, I put my arm around him. He wiped his cheek and looked at me and in a soft voice said, “This is just so beautiful. How lucky we are to sit here and witness life, birth, death and creation all at once.” I had nothing better to say or add, just squeezed him stronger and as the sun gave up it’s last hold on the Grand Canyon horizon I wiped the beginnings of the next Colorado river from my face.
That evening when we rolled back through the forest to our little camping spot, we noticed that we had neighbors near by in one of those Cruise America RV rentals. As we got out the young couple came over to say hello and to let us know that they had heard coyotes or wolves off in the distance. They were from Switzerland and this was their first time in the United States. Introductions led to laughs and before long I built a fire and we sat out under the stars comparing Grand Canyon adventures, differences between countries, learning new words in each others language and suggestions on places they have to see in the west and areas we need to explore in Europe. Off in the distance a bull Elk began bugling and he said, “Coyotes are getting closer.” I laughed and let him in on the Elk call and did my best interpretation of an Elk bugle back into the Arizona night sky. The fire and our laughter along with the elk songs lasted to past three in the morning. Almost a record for this ole’ timer. 🙂
The next morning I stepped outside right as he was about to leave a note on the door. “I didn’t want to disturb you, but was going to leave this for when you woke up. Because of you and our talk around the fire, we are headed up to Antelope Canyon. Out of all the people we have met in the United States so far, you have been the best conversation and the most warm and kind.” We waved as they pulled away and I thought to myself, “We’ll probably never see them again”, but how honored I feel knowing we are a part of their Grand Canyon memory, perhaps a tiny ring on their tree of life, or that little wrinkle… on the corner of their smile.
It’s raining today and as I look out through the window I feel a bit more connected. I see a pebble being pushed down the side of a mound of earth by a tiny puddle of muddy rain water. At one time this just meant that I can’t go out and play, now I sit and ponder what this canyon will one day look like and all the wrinkles, rings and hidden mysteries it will reveal. –
Planning a Trip to the Grand Canyon
If you haven’t been, you have to go. It’s a pilgrimage we all must do. It’s one of the 7 natural wonders of the earth and is constantly changing. It does get crowded, but it’s large enough you can escape the masses. Here are a few tips and suggestions to see Grand Canyon on the cheap and making it feel like it is all yours.
Camping – There are several nice campgrounds within the park, but if you have a tent, or solar like we do or a generator in your RV you can avoid these cramped, expensive spaces that fill up more than six months in advance. We camped for free on Forest Service road 302, which is less than two miles from the entrance to the park. The road is well maintained and there are many many places for any size rig to make a camp spot. There are over 17 other Forest Roads in the area too that we scouted out that offer free camping. You can learn more via https://www.campendium.com/arizona/grand-canyon
Park Pass – If you haven’t already, I would suggest getting the annual National Park Pass for $80. Getting into the park will cost $30, but having this pass makes entry easier and if you are in the west for any length of time, you’ll save money quickly with all the parks, monuments and national recreation areas that all charge a fee to enter.
Transportation around the park – There is a well mapped out FREE bus system that will take you everywhere along the south rim. You can drive too, but there is one complete section of the park that is not accessible via car and you must use the bus, hike or bike. We utilized the bus that picks up and drops off every 15 minutes or so less than a mile from where we were camping. It was so nice to avoid the crowds and trying to find parking places. All the buses have bike racks too and the paved bike trail system within the park is fantastic. There’s also a nice seven mile (mostly all downhill) trail from the park all the way back down into town, which we loved.
First Stop – Of course the rim of the canyon. There is not a bad view. If you are on a time constraint, then your next stop should be the main welcome center, which is where all the buses pick up and drop off. They have lots of information and great suggestions on what to see and do if you only have a half day to see the park, one day, multiple days etc. There is a wonderful video there too that will bring goose bumps to your skin.
Early bird gets the worm – Drive in early. The crowds and parking gets crazy as it gets closer to lunch. Since most everyone begins and ends at the welcome center, the further you can hike, bike or drive from there, the quieter it gets. The same goes for sunrise or sunset. Get there as early as possible, stake out your piece on the edge of the Canyon and don’t forget to bring a flashlight…. and maybe bring a glass of wine but don’t indulge in 3/4 of a full bottle…. ask me how I know. 🙂